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Glenn Allen Knoblock

a soldier and sailor during the War of 1812, was born in Pennsylvania. At the beginning of the war he likely served in a Pennsylvania militia regiment, but sometime after March 1813 he was sent for duty at sea aboard the Lake Erie squadron under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry. Short on manpower during the outfitting of his fleet at Erie, Pennsylvania, including the twenty-gun brigs Lawrence and Niagara, Perry was forced to plead with his superior, Commodore Isaac Chauncey, to send him more men. After much wrangling, Chauncey finally sent Perry 150 men in two separate drafts, including African Americans Robert Brown, Jesse Walls, and James Brown Unfortunately Perry was unhappy with the caliber of the men he received complaining to Chauncey that The men that came are a motley set blacks Soldiers and boys I cannot think that you saw them after they ...

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Paul J. Polgar

abolitionist and Union soldier, was born a slave in Virginia. Little is known about Douglass's early years except that he escaped slavery and fled to Louisiana in the late 1840s. He spent the 1850s in the upper Midwest, where he worked as a barber and an abolitionist. There he gave emphatic speeches calling for immediate emancipation and became known for his persuasive speaking style and oratorical prowess. He took his surname from his fellow abolitionist and mentor, Frederick Douglass, with whom he traveled on the abolitionist speaking circuit.

Ford Douglass was a radical figure who viewed the United States as an inherently racist nation. He believed that the Constitution systematically endorsed the institution of slavery, while the nation's politicians acted insidiously to spread the sin of bondage. An excerpt from a speech he gave at the State Convention of the Colored Citizens of Ohio in 1851 captures ...

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John Saillant

Olaudah Equiano identified himself by this name only once in his life—on the title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). In the Narrative itself Equiano wrote of his forename that it was an Ibo word meaning “change,” “fortunate,” or “loudly or well spoken,” but this derivation has not been corroborated. Words similar to his surname have been identified in languages spoken both east and west of the Niger River, which flows south through Iboland, the southeastern region of present-day Nigeria, where Equiano claimed to have been born. He was accused almost immediately of fabrication, however, and he may have been born in North America. All other documentation of his life, including vital records and his own signatures, used the name Gustavus Vassa (sometimes Vasa, Vassan, and other variations). Both the Narrative and commercial and public ...

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William B. Gould

Union navy sailor in the Civil War and journalist, was presumably born into slavery, in Wilmington, North Carolina, to Elizabeth “Betsy” Moore of Wilmington, a slave, and Alexander Gould, who was white. William had at least one sibling, Eliza Mabson, who acquired her last name by virtue of a publicly acknowledged relationship with George Mabson, a white man in Wilmington. She eventually became the mother of five children by Mabson, including her son George L. Mabson, the first black lawyer in North Carolina.

Little is known about William B. Gould's early life. As a young man he acquired skills as a plasterer or mason, and he learned how to read and write, although those skills were forbidden by law to slaves. His initials are in the plaster of one of the Confederacy's most elegant mansions, the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington. Among his young friends were George Washington ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, was a native of St. Mary's County, Maryland. Though nothing certain is known of Harris's early life, he was likely born into slavery and may have remained enslaved until the Civil War. Harris enlisted in the Union Army on 14 February 1864, joining the 38th U.S. Colored Troop Regiment (USCT) at Great Mills, Maryland, stating his age as thirty-six years and his occupation as that of a farmer. A number of USCT regiments recruited men, many of them formerly enslaved, from the Tidewater region of Maryland and Virginia. Among the other new recruits of these regiments were fellow St. Mary's County resident William H. Barnes, as well as Christian Fleetwood, Alfred B. Hilton, and Charles Veale (4th USCT), Decatur Dorsey (39th USCT), and Miles James (36th USCT). All of these men, like James Harris and a number ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Hull was born free in Northampton, Massachusetts. In later years, according to Thomas Egleston, General Paterson's biographer, Hull would say that he was the son of an African prince. He was taken to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, when he was six years old by a black man named Joab. On 1 May 1777, when he was eighteen, he enlisted in the Massachusetts Line, the state militia, as a private. For the next two years he was Paterson's orderly, known among those with whom he served for his intelligence and wit. He was almost certainly among the more than eight hundred African Americans at the battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778, since he was serving under Paterson at the time and Paterson's brigade fought in the battle. The historian Richard S. Walling includes Hull in a list of those whose presence at the battle is probable but not ...

Article

Paul Devlin

professional musician and soldier in the French and Indian War and War of Independence, was the freeborn progenitor of a large Groton, Massachusetts, family. The family later spent time in Dracut and Pepperell, where they owned land. His father, Primus Lew, was a skilled artisan (a cooper, or barrel maker) and it is unclear if he was ever a slave and later freed, or was himself freeborn. The historian Benjamin Quarles claimed that Barzillai Lew was also a cooper, and it has been claimed that Primus was also a musician. His mother was named Margret; nothing else about her is known. Father and son both served in the French and Indian War, with Barzillai (also known as “Zeal”) serving for thirty-eight weeks in 1760 under the command of Thomas Farrington. In 1768 he married Dinah Bowman whose freedom he bought for $400 They later had at ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

seaman in the U.S. Navy and Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Nova Scotia, Canada. Nothing certain is known of his early life or his family background, though it may be speculated that, based on his origin in one of Canada's maritime provinces, he may have been a sailor in the merchant trade and that, if so, his activities in this area likely facilitated his arrival in the United States.

Joseph Noil's arrival in the United States is also undocumented, but by 1872 at the latest he had enlisted in the U.S. Navy at New York. While serving aboard the sidewheel steam frigate U.S.S. Powhatan at Norfolk, Virginia, he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor when he saved a fellow crewman, Boatswain J. C. Walton, from drowning on 26 December 1872 Noil was undoubtedly an experienced sailor this is not only indicated by his action ...

Article

Storm Butler

a laborer, shoemaker, and member of the Union Army, was born in 1807 in Granby, Connecticut. He was the son of a newly freed black slave, Earl Percy, who served under Ozias Pettibone, a colonel in the Revolutionary War. Colonel Pettibone was one of the richest men in Granby and one of only a few slave owners. A 1790 census showed that Pettibone had five slaves, three of whom were children. One of these slaves was a thirty-six-year-old woman. This original census does not list an adult male or father among Pettibone's slaves; a later census lists the children as “mulatto,” but does not provide the name of the father. One of the children, Earl Pettibone, was born in 1784 the year in which the legislature passed an act ending lifetime slavery for children born to slave women after 1 March of that ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, was born the son of an African slave named Hannah and a white father in James City County, Virginia, on the farm of Nathaniel Hankins. Two years later, when Alexander Hankins inherited his father's 400-acre farm, he also inherited the slaves that worked it and their families, including the infant Edward. Married before the war to a woman, also a slave, named Grace, Ratcliff continued as a slave until one day in early 1864 when he “laid down his hoe in the field” and walked the distance to Yorktown to join the Union camp there as a contraband (Virginia State Senate Joint Resolution, 484). He joined the 38th U.S. Colored Troop Regiment (USCT) when it was organized in Virginia on 28 January 1864 thereby becoming a free man and hoping that soon his family would also be free ...

Article

Soren Henry Hough

civil war soldier, was born in Lebanon, Connecticut. His parents are unknown; however, it was noted that his maternal grandmother was a Native American from the Pequot tribe and lived in Bozrah, Connecticut. He is listed as a mulatto according to the 1880 Federal Census. In his civilian life, Seymour worked as a coachman, a gardener, a waiter at a hotel, and a janitor. He was a sergeant in the Civil War, a political activist, and an estate owner.

On 22 November 1854, Thanksgiving Day, Lloyd G. Seymour, age twenty-three, married Nancy P. Williams at the Talcott Street Congregational Church. According to an 1880 Federal Census, Nancy was also mulatto. Nancy's father “lived in the family of Roger Williams of Rhode Island Golden Wedding Her grandfather Dudley Hays was a soldier in the American Revolution and at the Seymour golden wedding anniversary celebration he was given a ...

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Timothy J. McMillan

slave, Civil War veteran, author, and itinerant minister, was born in New Bern, North Carolina. His mother was Lettice Nelson, a slave on John Nelson's plantation at Garbacon Creek in eastern North Carolina; his father was a white man believed to be William Singleton. As a young child of four, William was sold by his owner and thus separated from his mother and two brothers for the first time.

Singleton was purchased by a Georgia widow who speculated in slaves buying people cheaply when they were young and selling them at a premium when they had reached adulthood He was given the common tasks of a slave child running errands and carrying goods Around the age of six Singleton decided to escape the constant whippings and his bondage in Georgia and return to New Bern He was able to ride a stagecoach from ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

a sailor who fought in the War of 1812, was a participant in the decisive Battle of Lake Erie, serving under Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Walls, his last name also given as “Wall” in some accounts, was a native of Pennsylvania and probably freeborn, but nothing is known of his early life. He may have been a resident of Erie, Pennsylvania, when the War of 1812 began, and his military service commenced by 1813.

Although Jesse Walls's military service is not recorded in any official records, the documents for this time period, such as ship's crew and prize lists, are far from complete; indeed, it is this lack of documentation that has often served to obscure the role that African Americans played in the War of 1812 a conflict often described as America s second war for independence In fact black soldiers and sailors men like ...

Article

Joel M. Sipress

soldier and political leader, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Nothing is known of Ward's parents, and little of his early life, but he was raised a slave in Virginia, and became free during the Civil War. In January 1864 he enlisted in the First United States Colored Cavalry, a federal regiment organized in late 1863 in the Tidewater region of Virginia. A month after enlistment Ward was promoted to sergeant, a rank he held until his discharge in February 1866. Ward's service included duty in Virginia at Fortress Monroe, in Hampton, and in Richmond. During the war he received a bullet wound through the knee.

Following his discharge, he settled in Portsmouth, Virginia, where he worked as a carpenter. In October 1867 Ward reenlisted and served in the Thirty ninth United States Colored Infantry While stationed at Ship Island Mississippi he contracted a serious illness most likely ...

Article

Carolyn Warfield

forced tobacco laborer, was born in Walnut Bottom, Henderson, Kentucky, the son of a slave woman and a free man; the latter was a Federal soldier in the siege of Petersburg and Richmond during the Civil War (1861–1865), carpenter, and land owner. Warfield identified his mother as Anna Warfield and his father as George Williams. Anna was living on the Kentucky farm of Marylander Richard Warfield when George was born. Eastern soil depletion drove many farmers and planters westward to Kentucky for fertile land, where slavery provided a free source of workers to cultivate the labor-intensive tobacco crops. Rich bottomlands formed by the confluence of the Green and Ohio Rivers were ideal for western Kentucky's tobacco economy. Annually the Ohio River flooded and revitalized the soil. When Richard Warfield died 1838, George was sold to William Beverley Beverly at the time his estate was ...